Southampton: Can the Saints Win the Premier League?

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Southampton: Can the Saints Win the Premier League?
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Sitting in third place in the Premier League going into the international break, Southampton have started to draw praise of many members of the media, such as ESPNFC's John Cox, Jeremy Wilson of The Telegraph and Joe Prince-Wright of NBC Sports' Pro Soccer Talk.

Even England manager Roy Hodgson has taken notice, calling on three Saints, Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez for the two friendlies this week against Chile and Germany.

The one group of people that haven't quite taken notice yet seem to be the bookies. Currently, you can bet on Southampton to win the Premier League at 125-1 according to SkyBet.

Those are the same odds you can get on sixth-place Everton. A bet on seventh-place Tottenham Hotspur would only net you 28-1 odds, while eighth-place Manchester City are still the favorites at 5-2!

But with a win in their next fixture at Arsenal, Southampton could find themselves at the top of the table. With nearly a third of the season complete, isn't it time to take the Saints seriously as a title contender?

Southampton currently hold the longest unbeaten run in the Premier League, a streak of eight games dating back to the last day of August.

Naysayers of Southampton's early success will point to the fact that the Saints have only faced two of the current top eight so far this season. But Mauricio Pochettino's side have done well against the two top teams they have faced, beating Liverpool at Anfield and drawing with Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Southampton's next two games are against Arsenal and Chelsea. The Saints fared reasonably well against those teams last season.

Against Arsenal, Southampton managed to draw at St. Mary's after losing at the Emirates early in the season when the Saints were still adapting to life in the Premier League. Against Chelsea, Southampton actually took four of the six available points, drawing at Stamford Bridge and winning the home leg 2-1.

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Dejan Lovren is one of six Southampton players to start every Premier League match this season.

Other detractors will point to the lack of depth in the Southampton team.

This season, Pochettino has only used 15 different players in the starting 11 for Premier League games. Six players—Artur Boruc, Dejan Lovren, Jose Fonte, Morgan Schneiderlin, Victor Wanyama and Lallana—have started all 11 matches. Compare that to Manchester United last season, who used 24 starters in last year's championship campaign. No one player started all 38 matches, with Robin van Persie starting the most with 35.

But just because Southampton haven't played as many players doesn't mean they don't have a deep squad. A number of Saints who are part of the bench have international experience.

Dani Osvaldo plays for Italy, Steven Davis plays for Northern Ireland, Gaston Ramirez plays for Uruguay and Maya Yoshida plays for Japan. Daniel Fox and Tadanari Lee have previously represented their countries. Calum Chambers is currently the captain for the England U-19 team. 

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The one thing that may truly hinder Southampton's chances at a title run isn't their form against top teams, it's their form against mid-table and bottom-third teams.

Naveen Maliakkal of TheHardTackle.com did some excellent statistical analysis of how Premier League champions did against the top teams and lower teams in the table. In the past 12 years, no team has won the Premier League title averaging less than 2.0 points per match against the bottom 12 teams in the table.  The average title winners obtained 2.45 points per match against the bottom 12.

Southampton are currently averaging 2.0 points per match against the bottom 12. If the Saints want to contend for the top spot, Pochettino's squad will have to stop dropping points to the likes of Sunderland, West Ham United and Norwich City, as they already have this season.

If Southampton continue current form, they will finish the season with 76 points. That amount would have finished a solid third last season, good enough for an automatic Champions League place. But unless the Saints become even more ruthless, a Premier League title may be one step too far for this season.

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